Tessa and Kumiko Uchikura pose for a portrait on their farm

Meet the Farmers: A Taste of the Bobcaygeon Farmers’ Market

Maicey Benjamin “doesn’t do titles”—but as a founding member of the Bobcaygeon Farmers’ Market, he’s been a driving force for one of the area’s most important local food destinations for over a decade. Every Saturday from May to October, the Bobcaygeon Farmers’ Market sets up on the Bobcaygeon Fairground, selling goods grown or produced within 100km. Maicey says the 100km principle encourages not just fresh food but meaningful social interaction. “It’s not just a farmer’s market, it’s a happening,” he adds. “These are not distributors. These are the source of the food, and that’s very important. The quality of the food is excellent. They take good care and they’re very careful how they’re farming.”

Jerry Jerrard of Kawartha Lakes Honey is a prime example. Jerry has been a beekeeper for thirty years, and currently maintains a thousand hives on properties throughout the region. A fellow founding member of the Bobcaygeon Farmers’ Market, he feels the rhythms of beekeeping suit him well. “I’m my own man, my own boss,” he says. “I did work in a factory previous to beekeeping and didn’t like working in that environment. I’m out working with nature in the summer, and a nice warm shop in the winter building equipment, so it’s right up my alley.”

That’s a good thing, considering the nature of the job. Managing the honey harvest and the health of the bees demands attention to detail, particularly to the cycle of the seasons. “Every flower that the bees collect nectar from makes a different colour, different flavour of honey,” says Jerry. “Different flowers will bloom at different times of year. People always ask me how I get the different types of honey, clover, alfalfa, basswood, buckwheat. They say, ‘do you train your bees to go to a certain flower?’ And it’s more along the lines of different flowers that bloom at different times through the season.”

Jerry sells the honey he collects at a variety of stores in Bobcaygeon and beyond. He encourages customers to check the Kawartha Lakes Honey Facebook page to find vendors, or to call him at the honey house to arrange a direct sale. He can also be found at his stall at the Bobcaygeon Farmers’ Market every Saturday. He says the ethos of the market is a good fit for him, considering many of the other vendors are equally invested in sustainable farming practices. Without good environmental stewardship, Jerry feels bees, and by extension our food supply, are at risk. “Bees are responsible for pollinating a very large portion of the crops that we use as food,” he says. “There’s a quote that is often used saying if bees were to perish, humans would follow within four years. First of all, I don’t think bees are going to perish or go extinct, as long as there are beekeepers like myself willing to keep the bees alive and keep our yards going. If bees did perish, we would still have food—it’d just be a very, very bland diet”

Fortunately, there are newcomers on the scene who are invested in just the kind of stewardship Jerry advocates. Kimiko Uchikura and Tessa Lewis, the mother-daughter team at Merkaba Acres outside Bobcaygeon, began their ecologically minded farming project in 2019. The ambitious operation includes a market garden, permaculture orchard, herb garden, cut flower garden, and botanical garden—not to mention chickens and a small herd of grass-fed Wagyu-Angus beef cattle. Some of Jerry’s hives are also located near their property.

“In a nutshell, I think what we’re trying to do is, primarily, connect people to the land,” says Kimiko. “We really encourage our customers to come and spend time on the land and to connect with where their food is grown. We like to bring people out here so they can see what’s going on and where their food is coming from.”

The food grown at Merkaba Acres isn’t officially certified organic, but many of the practices the Tessa and Kimiko follow meet or exceed organic guidelines. For instance, the market garden where they grow mixed vegetables use a low-till technique, which preserves the health and structure of the soil. “Tilling, basically you’re taking all the life and the micro-biome in the soil and flipping it on its head, breaking up all those connections and disturbing the soil life, whereas low-till is a much less disruptive way of doing things,” Tessa says. “It’s sometimes a little more labour-intensive, but it’s one of those things where the longer you do it the more you reap the benefits.”

They encourage visitors to drop in on their farm store, and walk the grounds while there to get a sense of how the setup works. Looking around the harmonious, thriving farm, it may be hard to believe it has only been in operation for a few short years. “It’s definitely a new thing for both of us,” Tessa admits. “Helping to build a resilient and diverse food system is a big part of why I’m doing what I’m doing, and connection to the outdoors. For me, that’s always been a big part of my life.”

“I guess primarily I want to create a self-sustaining way of life,” Kimiko adds. “We started going to the Bobcaygeon Farmers’ Market last year. It was our first farmers’ market, and we’re back again this year. I’d say we’ve developed a pretty good base of returning customers and customers who come see us week, which is really nice. Some of them have started to come here and shop at the farm store as well since we’ve been open.”

The duo have big plans for the future, including restoring their heritage barn for use as an events space, and opening a cidery once the permaculture orchard begins to bear fruit. They’ll happily share details if you run into them at the market, and if you do, it’s fascinating to see the intersections with the work of longtime market veterans like Jerry and Maicey. With a supportive community backing the work of sustainably minded farmers and producers, the results are not only eco-friendly—they’re downright delicious.

Read more about producers in the Kawarthas Northumberland region in our Meet the Farmers series

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